Client: Philip Morris
PR Team: In-house corporate affairs functions for nine European
countries, co-ordinated by central office in Brussels plus Burson
tobacco smoke in perspective’
Timescale: 5 June 1996 ongoing
Cost: Estimated total budget pounds 1 million
Like its competitors, international cigarette marketer Philip Morris
has been subject to increasingly strict US government legislation on
smoking in public places. It is concerned that the European Union, where
it commands 30 per cent market share, is heading the same way.
With 40 EU anti-smoking laws in place the company set out to ‘protect
the rights of 97 million European smokers’ and challenge the perceived
dangers of passive smoking.
Since May last year, Philip Morris Europe has run two campaigns against
‘excessive’ government regulation. At the beginning of June 1996 it
launched phase three.
To demonstrate that scientific evidence on secondhand tobacco smoke does
not justify smoking bans; and the European public favours private
efforts to accommodate smokers and non-smokers.
Philip Morris kicked off its integrated marketing drive on 4 June,
unveiling a press advertising campaign by Bainsfair Sharkey Trott.
The ads compared the health risk factors scientific studies have
allocated to a range of activities, such as eating one biscuit a day,
with those of exposure to second hand tobacco smoke. The claim being
that none of these activities represented a ‘meaningful risk’. The ads
were placed in titles in nine European countries.
Philip Morris’ corporate affairs staff across Europe, in conjunction
with Burson-Marsteller, supported the ad campaign with heavyweight PR
starting with press conferences in the UK, Holland, Greece, Italy and
Gallup research on the attitudes of 12,000 employees and management in
15 EU countries, was used to show that only a small minority believe the
government should decide whether people can smoke at work. B-M produced
brochures backing the argument and made versions available on Philip
Morris’ web site.
A second wave of ads focused on developing sensible smoking policies at
work, in restaurants and public places with guidelines available on
The campaign caused a stir. More than 350 related items have appeared in
European publications over the last month and Philip Morris spokesmen
interviewed on broadcast media across Europe. In the UK, highlights were
vice president, corporate affairs David Greenberg’s appearances on Radio
4’s Today programme and BBC2’s Working Lunch.
On 25 June a French court banned the advertising campaign following a
plaintiff from the French biscuit industry. Vitriolic criticism emerged
from some quarters of the British press, including accusations of
ignoring the alleged links of passive smoking to respiratory diseases,
coronary heart disease and cot deaths.
Some believed this was polemic posing as science and that the data
created confusion rather than understanding.
Sean Murray, Philip Morris’ EU communications manager, says the main aim
was to stimulate debate - and in the short term the campaign has
certainly achieved that.
‘We’ve had a tremendous response from the public and raised the level of
debate from one of emotion to rationality,’ says Murray.
The company obviously hopes that taking the moral high ground and
questioning political correctness will provide it with a semblance of
public approval. Whether this is true and legislation is prevented, only
time will tell.